SENATOR DEAN SMITH
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES AND TREASURY
LIBERAL SENATOR FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA
ADDRESS TO THE PHILANTHROPY AUSTRALIA ‘PHILANTHROPY MEETS PARLIAMENT’ SUMMIT
Parliament House, Canberra
24 October 2023
I begin by acknowledging Philanthropy Australia co-chairs Amanda Miller and Lisa George, and CEO Jack Heath – and, of course, the representatives of Australia’s remarkable, resilient charities who are present here at Parliament House in Canberra today.
It is a privilege for me to join you in my role as Opposition charities spokesman.
But it is regrettable that I do so at a time when so many face record hardship and challenges.
Every statistic released confirms what we all know from our work in communities around the country.
People are doing it tough and seeking urgent help, many of them for the first time.
The mission to double philanthropic giving by 2030 – to build community strength, to cement a culture of giving and to reward generosity – is now more important than ever.
Record demand on charities
From round tables here in the capital with the Australian Red Cross and St Vincent de Paul, to local branches of Meals on Wheels in Narrabri in northern New South Wales.
From free supermarkets on the Gold Coast, to an op-shop dressing the homeless in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
These are among the inspiring organisations I have visited across five states in 2023.
With a few exceptions, caused by isolation or unique community circumstances, their concerns have been the same: A surge in demand, combined with falling donations and rising overheads.
Added to this perfect storm are dwindling volunteer bases, many of which have never fully rebuilt post-pandemic.
As I noted when I began, the shared experiences of these charities are reflected in the statistics – and brutally so.
The latest Foodbank Hunger Report revealed that 3.7 million households experienced food insecurity in the last year, an increase of 383,000 from 2022.
And The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Report found 95% of family households who responded found it difficult to meet essential living expenses – up 8% on last year.
The economic reality
This spiking demand for charity services is almost wholly due to the cost of living crisis Australians are living though.
Food, fuel, utilities…very few items are immune.
Nearly 80% of those households I mentioned experiencing food insecurity said rising cost of living was the main contributing factor.
There have been 11 interest rate increases under the current Government.
These are result of the central bank being left to pull the only lever available to address inflation – because nobody else is.
And the effects cannot be understated.
In my home state of WA, for example, more than 40,000 low-income mortgage holders are spending over 30% of their household budget on loan repayments.
The Salvation Army’s Doorways Emergency Relief Survey reported that 21% of respondents from the West had been unable to make their mortgage repayments on time in the past year.
Low-income renters didn’t fare any better, spending around two-thirds of their income to afford an average rental property in the state.
The reality is that the best thing the Government could do to aid struggling Australians, and the charity and non-profit sector working so hard to support them, is to prioritise good economic management and taming inflation above all else – and quickly.
The Productivity Commission Review
Doubling giving by 2030 is, as I have said, of ever increasing importance if our charities and non-profits are to meet demand into the future – but also, I hope, to grow and thrive.
We know that we still have a way to go.
Australia’s giving lags behind our contemporaries, representing just 0.81% of GDP, compared with 1.84% cent in New Zealand and 2.1% in the United States.
But I take the opportunity this morning to share some of the standout priorities and suggestions from submissions to the Productivity Commission’s Philanthropy Review.
Among these are:
- superannuation bequests;
- the possibility of Australians returning part of their tax return to charity in a deliberate and structured way;
- allowing ancillary funds to distribute to other ancillary funds; and
- encouraging later in life and legacy giving.
The latter, as most of you here will know, is aimed at a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity for the sector: An upcoming intergenerational wealth transfer estimated at more than $2.5 trillion.
This is a foundational consideration – how best to encourage and reward giving by those Australians fortunate enough to have amassed significant wealth for themselves and their families.
The Coalition has welcomed the Philanthropy Review and what it aims to achieve.
Like the sector, we eagerly await both the final work of the Productivity Commission and, more importantly, the new legislative and regulatory landscape it creates.
Likewise the sector-wide Not-for-Profit Blueprint, aimed at shaping Australian philanthropy’s future.
Noting today’s theme of cooperation between philanthropy and Government, I would make one final point.
Policy – even good policy – needs to be driven through Government.
It cannot be left to idle through.
The needs of the sector, and the millions of Australians it helps and employs, are now far too pressing.
I finish by paying tribute to the commitment and selfless service of those at the coalface: Australia’s charities and all those who sustain them.
Our philanthropic community continues to shape our country in the best possible image of ourselves.